Richard Slee: Swans
Witty, poetic and surreal, Swans shows Richard Slee at his finest. In this new work from the acclaimed ceramic artist, fourteen majestic swans glide across the tranquil surface of their museum plinths. With twisting, sinuous necks and red latex beaks, the swans exude a restless, inquisitive energy that animates the surrounding space. Their spiralling bodies call to mind spinning tops and evoke a child-like sense of delight.
Over the centuries, swans have appeared in popular tales from the erotic Greek myth of ‘Leda and the Swan’, to Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Wild Swans’ and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’. Folklore has made the swan a magical symbol of physical transformation, chastity and beauty.
Although the perfection of the swans’ ribbed conical bodies resembles the sleek industrial aesthetic of mass-produced design, Slee’s Swans are hand built, combining traditional wheel-thrown techniques with extruded and moulded clay. While Slee uses skills and processes that are rooted in the discipline of pottery, his conceptual approach to ceramic sculpture dismantles the boundary between craft and art.
Slee uses the subversive power of humour to interpret and reframe familiar objects. Swans is a mischievous nod to the traditions of illustrious porcelain manufactories, such as Meissen, whose graceful and naturalistic swans were famous from the eighteenth century onwards.
Swans was first exhibited in 2021 in Problem Pieces at Ariana Museum, Geneva, Switzerland and makes its UK debut at the Sainsbury Centre this Spring. Free entry, this display is located in the East End Gallery of the Sainsbury Centre.